Tulip Time 2014 in Holland, MI kicks off May 3rd! This year, the Town Crier Competition is one of the festival’s iconic events. Town Criers from around the world gather in Holland to compete during Tulip Time, adding a touch of old-world charm with their colorful costumes and clever cries. Guest blogger, Ann Van Heest from Discover Holland caught up with Holland’s own town crier, John Karsten, to talk with him about the competition and what it’s like to be the town crier in Holland.
John Karsten wears the town crier hat with aplomb. After all, it is original. “The hat they gave me is the original hat they bought for the town crier in 1940,” he explains. John is the fifth town crier to don the official cap at the behest of Tulip Time organizers, and has fulfilled the role since 1979.
One of the most important roles Holland’s town crier has is to make the official announcement that kicks off Holland’s beloved Volksparade (May 7, 2014). Holland’s early Tulip Time traditions embraced the ethic of “Dutch clean,” and now every year Holland’s “volks” gather to scrub the downtown streets with brooms and water. (Early efforts to use the Dutch Cleanser powder resulted in a cloud of dust over the parade route!) The morning of the parade, the Mayor and City Council inspect the downtown streets. Mayor Kurt Dykstra declares the streets of Holland in need of scrubbing, and instructs the town crier to make the announcement that the streets must be cleaned. This is John’s favorite task as town crier. “I declare the streets are dirty…” John makes the announcement in both English and Dutch, and has even attempted to make it in Spanish!
The job of town crier is no small-time commitment- John is a member of both the American and Netherlands’ Town Crier Guilds. Last year he placed 11 out of 35 contestants at a world championship competition in Canada, his best finish ever. This year, he will step back from competition and host twelve guests to Holland, Michigan’s very own town crier competition (May 10). Hosting is a job he clearly relishes. “I invite them to come here and compete,” he explains, detailing the competitive events. Competitors from the Netherlands and Bermuda will attend, sharing their very own take on their special role. Historically, town criers would use a gong or bell to alert townspeople to their announcement, but the contestant from Bermuda will bring his bagpipes. John Karsten will supply a “benchmark cry” for the judges, and then each contestant will be judged on how their own cry measures up.
See the town crier competition in action below: